On the second week of massive protests in Ecuador, thousands of indigenous protesters paralyzed the country and thousands more arrived in the capital of Quito, where they marched and eventually faced martial law. They reject President Moreno’s Neo-liberal reforms, but also emphasize their opposition to former President Rafael Correa, whom Moreno is blaming for the uprising. We spoke to representatives of 2 of the largest indigenous organizations CONAIE and CONFENAIE.
Massive protests have brought Ecuador almost to a standstill. Much of the country is paralized by a coalition of social organizations, including the indigenous movement under CONAIE, many student organizations, the Unitary Front of Workers or FUT, and many citizens in general, especially farmers and workers.
The protests erupted after President Lenin Moreno declared a host of economic and social austerity measures, proposed by the IMF, as a condition for loans. These included eliminating subsidies, raising gas and food prices, and restructuring work laws, based on more neoliberal standards, among other things.
Building up to the protests, anger among Ecuadorians reached a boiling point when the National Assembly struck down a law that would have made it possible to confiscate private assets from people involved in corruption.
By the second week of massive protests, thousands of indigenous protesters paralyzed towns and roads and thousands more arrived in the capital, after walking in many cases hundreds of miles from their rural homes, all the way to Quito.
Andres Tapia, Communications Director CONFENAIE: “We are all striking against a massive increase in food and transport prices, also the government’s agreement with the IMF. These agreements with oil, mining and timber corporations, represent a great danger for our indigenous lands.”
We spoke over the phone with Andres Tapia, he is the Communications Director of CONFENAIE, short for Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Andres Tapia, Communications Director CONFENAIE: “We are extremely worried about [the destruction of the biosphere], and that is precisely the central demand of the indigenous movements articulated under CONAIE.
However, on this particular strike our demands are the following:
1- no to the austerity measures imposed by the IMF,
2- no to a mining and oil based economy,
3- no to the new laws regulating work.
So we want to be categorical on this: our protests are an organic process by social organizations, along with the indigenous movements and in no way is it an endorsement of Correa or any other Ecuadorian political figure.”
The fact that the protests, at least from the indigenous movement, do not endorse former president Rafael Correa, is precisely a very important part of the issue.
President Moreno and other high ranking government officials have alleged a destabilization plot by Correa, as a justification for declaring a state of exception, similar to martial law, and sent the military and riot squads to repress the protesters.
Even the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido tweeted about his support for President Moreno, claiming that there is a Pro-Maduro – Pro-Correa plot that is financing the protests. Guaido made these claims despite a decade of Correa’s forceful opposition to the indigenous movement.
Correa not only imprisoned many indigenous leaders, but also intensified a surveillance state apparatus on them, violently repressing demonstrations and waiving many of their constitutional rights in favor of mining projects.
Andres Tapia, Communications Director CONFENAIE: “The indigenous movement’s agenda goes beyond supporting a political or presidential figure, like Rafael Correa was. Historically, In that sense the indigenous movement spoke for the great majority of the Ecuadorian people. Now is not the exception. Over the last decades, we have been protagonists of Ecuador’s social changes.”
Recently there have been many documented cases of human rights violations, including three deaths (by Oct, 7th), about 600 people detained, dozens of cases of often grave injuries, such as shots with pellet bullets and even live rounds, public beatings, run-overs, and even many alleged cases of torture.
The official in charge of this operation is General Oswaldo Jarrin, who was trained in Israel and The School of the Americas, as part of “Operation Condor,” back in the nineteen eighties.
Jarrin ordered elite troops and assault vehicles to be stationed outside the Carondelet Presidential Palace in preparation for Wednesday’s general strike.
In the early 2000’s, very similar strikes took down three governments, one after the other.
However, this time, to avoid being deposed like many before him, President Moreno strategically flew to Guayaquil, under the protection of the Social Christian Party which runs the city and surrounding areas.
Apawki Castro, Communications Director CONAIE: “[The alleged plot of Correa financing us], is a lie, a “PR strategy”, trying to control information, and also the Correa faction is obviously trying to use our momentum and get on board. We are not supporting any character, our struggle is about rights, ours and nature’s, along with the rest of our demands. They have that strategy, trying to use us, on a move to bring back Rafael Correa, but we are steering clear from any of that.”
There are supporters of former president Rafael Correa on the streets, trying to swing the momentum in their favor, including the Governor of Pichincha and many Alianza Pais figures, some like Luis Tuarez where violently rejected by the crowd.
But by far, the core of the protests is formed by the indigenous and student movements, along with an angry population tired of imposed austerity measures, while corruption cases involving millions of dollars multiply, many unprosecuted.
And while on the streets people protest, in the background, the political right stands to win. Right wing parties, have encouraged and supported Moreno, letting his government do all the “dirty” austerity work, and they are now in a position to win the next elections and take over a stronger state apparatus.
Apawki Castro, Communications Director CONAIE: “As indigenous movements, we have proposed a new economic model, away from the current extractivist model, which is not a sustainable model for our nationalities and territories. So for now, that is demand number two on our agenda.”
Furthermore, Tapia, who represents a group from the Amazon regions, stresses the importance that nature has for the indigenous movement.
Andres Tapia, Communications Director CONFENAIE: “The indigenous movement has always been active defending the land, locally, internationally, and even in a global context. We have been at the forefront of the fight against climate change. In our struggle, [PachaMamma or Mother Earth] has been represented in one of our main traditional standard flags, and it still stands as such. In that context [taking care of nature] is one of our main demands, especially in the amazon. In principle, we oppose the many mining and oil concessions, given all over the country, by this and past governments, including that of Rafael Correa Delgado.”
On October 7th two official CONAIE documents were published.
The second document addressed several cases of looting, stating that whoever committed such crimes is not part of their movement, and furthermore stating that they have identified several groups of agent provocateurs, sent by the military, operating to spread chaos.
And as a response to that, in the build up for the general strike on October 10th, indigenous guards will provide security and detain violent individuals.
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